Robert Reich

The mind of Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich, must be whizzing furiously these days. He sees and hears so much that he would like to write and speak about, yet as an indentured public servant of the Clinton regime, he cannot break through the invisible chains that bind him.

Reich is not Reich if he cannot speak out and write up the dynamics of political economies, especially that of the United States. Once in a while he just has to burst forth, however interstitially qualified almost every paragraph or exposition has to be to preserve his loyalty oath toward his old Oxford buddy in the White House.

Self-censorship is not Reich’s idea of job gratification. But he has to be careful and clever when he ventures into the land where common candor is considered courage. This is the land of -­hush — corporate criticism — a rare genre that can turn Bill Clinton into petrified wood.

So Reich tiptoed over to the reactionary Democratic Leadership Council — a Washington breeding ground for crypto­Republicans and delivered a speech astutely titled “The Revolt of the Anxious Class.” Not the downtrodden class, not the repressed masses, rather, a sinking middle class that is anxious about its likelihood of sliding further into debt and despair. Reich’s evasive humor comes right up front — take that Marx.

After observing that for the past 15 years or so, the rich are getting richer and the rest of America is slipping, despite more members of the family working harder and longer to be middle-class. “We are on the way to becoming a two-tiered society composed of a few winners and a larger group left behind whose anger and disillusionment is easily manipulated,” he said.

How can we reverse this decline, he asks? Not “by stopping technological advances or seceding from the global economy.” Not by redistributing some of the rich’s “bounty” to the anxious middle class, (mentioning “the poor” is out of vogue these days), not by massive tax cuts for the rich or the middle class. Only by equipping “every American to succeed through hard work-under the new rules” can better times return, spoke the Secretary.

Investing in training workers to “use new technologies and give them authority to make decisions” will be what makes companies succeed, he declared.

This is an oft-repeated theme by Reich, but that is not why he gave this speech. He gave the speech to deliver but one paragraph at the end — he finally raised the banner against CORPORATE WELFARE. That is what he stressed in his pre-release interviews that scooped the speech by a day.

Here are the courageous words of common candor: [The Progressive Policy Institute] “has compiled a formidable list of special tax benefits for particular industries, totaling over $111 billion over 5 years. Since we are committed to moving the disadvantaged from welfare to work, why not target corporate welfare as well, and use the savings to help all Americans get better work?”

“Ending corporate welfare as we know it is a worthy goal, made all the worthier if it frees funds for investments in

workers. ‘Welfare to work,’ in the fullest meaning of this phrase including cuts in corporate welfare to pave the way to better work -­offers a powerful theme for the 104th Congress.”

After over twenty five years of admonishing corporate welfare boondoggles, I am delighted that Secretary Reich has spoken however modestly against a slice of this massive aid to dependent corporations.

Perhaps in a future address he will add “corporate workfare” and “two years and you’re out” to the giant corporations that range from the agribusiness to the munitions to the drug industries and much beyond.

Reporters went for the obvious reactions to Reich on corporate welfare. Commerce Secretary, Ron Brown, who has journeyed from the dispossessed to the possessed, mumbled something about giving out the wrong signals to the business community whose promotional Commerce Department your taxes fund.

The White House, the press reported, maintained a stony silence of no comment. Whew, imagine Clinton getting caught saying anything about getting the rich off welfare.

No one in Congress with any power reacted either. Newt Gingrich was too busy smacking his craven lips in anticipation of all that campaign money coming his way from those very business interests feeding off your tax dollars.

I can only imagine the kind of book that Bob Reich will write just as soon as he rushes out of the Labor Department building the last time shouting “free at last, free at last.”

Probably, he has already started working on the manuscript, For that’s the way he would define therapy, which is so much better than denial.

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